Ultramaniac Vol. #1 (also w/box) - Mania.com



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Mania Grade: B-

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Info:

  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: A
  • Packaging Rating: B
  • Menus Rating: B+
  • Extras Rating: C+
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
  • MSRP: 24.98/34.98
  • Running time: 100
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Ultramaniac

Ultramaniac Vol. #1 (also w/box)

By Chris Beveridge     January 24, 2005
Release Date: April 05, 2005


Ultramaniac Vol. #1 (also w/box)
© Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.


What They Say
Ayu Tetsushi is in her second year of junior high school and is known as the cool popular tennis club girl that all the other girls idolize. To tell the truth, Ayu only acts cool in order to impress Tetsushi Kaji of the school baseball club. Then, one day, Ayu meets Nina Sakura, a transfer student who had found Ayu’s missing purse. Nina’s strange personality had left Ayu a little perplexed. Furthermore, Ayu finds out that Nina is a witch that came from the kingdom of magic to study abroad. This is a story of one girl’s hope of love and another girl’s study of magic and their friendship to overcome the challenges set before them. Get ready for the ultra-cool, ultra-funny, ultra-romantic Ultramaniac!

Based on the original manga by Wataru Yoshizumi (Marmalade Boy) and featuring character designs by Miho Shimogasa (Gravitation) and art direction by Kazuhiro Takahashi (Galaxy Angel).

The Review!
It's probably as close to pure shojo as you can get as we follow the lives of a witch studying abroad and her new friend and how it all impacts their lives.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The series sports are rather good stereo mix with a lot of moments where the sound is coming in from varying directions but generally not for all that long. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and that had a few good areas of directionality as well. The mix has a good full sound to it and comes across as problem free. We had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback of either language track.

Video:
Originally airing in 2003, the transfer for this series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. With it being as much of a girls show as it is and being such a recent production, this is one of those transfers that really just stands out because it's so bright and visually vibrant that you can't help but appreciate how gorgeous it looks. Between the lush reds and the solid blues for the backgrounds and skies, this is just eye-candy all around. The transfer appears to have no noticeable problems with cross coloration or aliasing and it even looked blissfully free of blocking and color gradient banding. This just looked gorgeous from start to finish.

Packaging:
By the looks of things, the Japanese release came in three double-disc box sets and none of them have the artwork we have here, though it may have shown up inside of it. The cover for this release has a good looking shot of Nina in her witches outfit while Aya in some trendy youth clothing is standing next to her, both of them flashing some good smiles that's all set against a fairly indistinct pinkish background. It's an eye-catching cover that has some good looking designs and a solid layout to it. The back cover goes minimal on shots from the show with just a small strip of four down the center while giving most of its space over to a fairly detailed summary of the premise. The discs features and episode numbers and titles are clearly listed while the production and technical information is squashed down a bit to get it all to fit. With the pinkish background though it's all easy to read even at the small font. The insert replicates the front cover but with some additional images of a couple of the guys from the show while the reverse side lists the expected months for future volumes to be released.

Menu:
The menu layout is cutely done with an attractive image of Ayu and Nina together in the center while various glittery lights emanate from behind them in a swirl of stars other thingamajigs while a bit of simple instrumental music plays along to it. The navigation is a bit awkward since it's laid out in a way that moving in direction can take you to another but it's easy to see where you actually are. The only thing I really don't like and it's something that seems to be becoming more common on Geneon releases is putting the set-up and extras in the same section. Access times are nice and fast here but the discs subtitle layout did not provide us with our expected subtitle stream; the first stream is the signs and songs stream so it picked that up instead of the second one as both are listed as English.

Extras:
The only included extra is a clean version of the opening sequence.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Having created one of my favorite series of recent years with Marmalade Boy, I'm naturally inclined to try something more recent from Wataru Yoshimizu. Based off of the manga of the same name, this twenty-seven episode series thankfully doesn't seem like a rehash of that formula or anything similar to it. With its focus on younger girls and the elements of witchcraft and without going as over the top and dramatic as that series, Ultramaniac actually feels a bit more refined and has a different level of humor.

The series pairs together two somewhat unlikely friends. Ayu is something of your typical second year middle school student in that she does fairly decent, plays up being cooler than she is and has a secret crush on one of the more handsome looking guys in the class. She feels that she can't confess her love to Kaiji because she believes he'll refuse her and then it'll just be a downhill life from there so she typically just watches him from afar and interacts on occasion with some slight stuttering and girlish giggles. When alone, she tends to be hard on herself for how she acts towards him and laments over the lack of relationship but continues to have the same belief about it never working and not wanting to ruin the dream.

Into her life comes Nina, a witch from the Magical Kingdom who is studying "abroad" in Japan to try and help her grades as she's getting dangerously close to flunking out. Being in roughly the same grade as Ayu, she ends up becoming good friends with her after Ayu learns her secret during Nina's arrival in town. It wasn't too hard to figure out since Nina came flying in on a magic scooter and practically crashed into Ayu. Ayu does her best to try and ignore all of it and pretend that she didn't see anything but Nina's sort of like that bad penny that keeps coming back, so much so that she follows Ayu home afterwards and tries to get her to help her figure out where she's going since her map is about two hundred years out of date. As the two get to know each other, their trust level goes up and they become fairly decent friends as each of them knows the others secret.

Much of the show early on just focuses on establishing the setting and the characters which works pretty well. The home setting for Ayu is minimal as both her parents are away on business at the moment while Nina's is more interesting. The home she's staying in has a human wife and a Magic Kingdom husband. Apparently the two fell in love when he went studying abroad as a youth and he opted to stay there afterwards and took up a job in a company. The house also seems to be a waypoint for others from the Magic Kingdom to stop by on occasion so that tends to add some fun to the events. The school setting is where most of the action really takes place as you have the usual relationship games that middle school students play, such as Ayu's interest in Kaji that often causes trouble with his best friend Hiroki. While Kaji would probably be all for a relationship, Hiroki goes so far as to tell Ayu that he himself doesn't find any interest in such things and won't do anything to encourage that for Kaji since he's his best friend. Everything gets complicated by the stereotypical nerd character named "Committee" though as he's convinced that Nina is a witch and is searching for proof of it based on seeing her use her powers the first night she arrived.

With the addition of a character like Committee, you can pretty much sense how things play out with his material. Right down to his look, shorter than everyone else, glasses that obscure the eyes and a nasly voice, the character is pretty much textbook material on creating someone that's never going to really get anywhere and will probably annoy part of the readership but is still essential to creating certain types of confrontation. It helps to set apart the other usual types of confrontations that come up with Nina decides to use her magic in attempts to help Ayu more often than not and generally it comes in her trying to help Ayu get closer to Kaji. Nina's magic is actually an interesting update on past stereotypes itself as everything is persocom based with a mini-laptop that has a thinking and feeling AI in it. Nina has to check it to ensure she has the skills to perform a certain spell and then the spell is downloaded via a wire into a tiny chest where the contest are transformed into the magic item. It's a neat twist on it and a nicely updated variant on a long standing character type.

After taking in the first four episodes, I'm not sure exactly how I feel about the show yet. It hasn't captured me right from the start like Yoshimizu's prior work but I didn't expect it to be the same as that to begin with. This is one of the shows that's closer to pure shojo than a lot of things running out there today so it has plenty of those elements and with it being more recent it has a few of the twists that help keep the genre alive. The characters are appealing and interesting with enough variety to them that they'll be able to do any number of stories. There's a slight hint about there being a bigger plot figuring into things as we get a single glimpse of the Magic Kingdom but that's all being held off until at least the next volume.

In Summary:
Visually, the show is a real winner and it's almost pure eye-candy throughout. Story wise, things are just a bit standard right now with a few neat twists that help differentiate it from everything else running out there. With little of the larger storyline evident here yet, it's harder to pass judgment since it's really just working through the setup and basic introductions, something it does well and has provided for some interesting avenues to explore. While it hasn't nailed us hook, line and sinker, it's intrigued us enough to definitely want to check out more and see what's in store.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Textless Opening

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI with upconversion set to 720p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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